Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 73

Politicians from across Russia’s political spectrum have weighed in on the Gazprom management team’s physical takeover of NTV’s facilities. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who showed up at the channel’s studios while the takeover was in progress, denounced it as a seizure by force. Veteran human rights activist Sergei Kovalev said it marked a return to Soviet-style censorship and that the KGB was now “at the helm” in the country (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 15). Another veteran human rights campaigner, Yelena Bonner, widow of Andrei Sakharov, bitterly denounced the takeover. “In order to please the president, our great people will swallow this Kokh-Jordan s**t,” Bonner said in a statement, referring to President Vladimir Putin and Alfred Kokh, the head of Gazprom-Media who was made NTV’s board chairman earlier this month, and Boris Jordan, the American businessman who was named the station’s general director. She also said that Vladimir Gusinsky (head of Media-Most), Boris Berezovsky and Badri Patarkatsishvili (owner and general director of TV-6, respectively) should be viewed as “our main allies” in the fight for press freedom–something, she conceded, might be difficult to accept “psychologically” (NTV.ru, April 16). Late last year, Berezovsky donated US$3 million to the Sakharov Museum, part of the foundation run by Bonner.

Others were less absolute in their support for the ousted NTV team. Irina Khakamada, a top official in the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), for example, while critical of the takeover, also criticized Kiselev for not stepping down as NTV’s general director and chief. This, she contended, would have allowed the conflicting sides to find a compromise figure (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 15). Other SPS leaders, including Anatoly Chubais, head of United Energy Systems, and Arkady Murashev, head of the SPS Moscow branch, have openly sided with Gazprom in the conflict (see the Monitor, April 6). Meanwhile, Aleksei Podberezkin, head of the nationalist Spiritual Heritage movement and a former close adviser to Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, backed Gazprom’s April 14 takeover of NTV’s studios. “I think the legal property owner assumed its legal rights at the channel,” Podberezkin told the pro-Kremlin Strana.ru website, adding that he believed the “polemics” in the battle over the station had been part of a deliberate “active propaganda effort” to ruin the image of Russia and President Vladimir Putin both at home and abroad (Strana.ru, April 14).

While Putin himself has not commented on the NTV takeover, it appears to be part of the Kremlin’s overall attempt to consolidate control over the country’s key institutions. It is interesting to note that the takeover coincided with the announcement by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, head of the pro-Kremlin Unity party, and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, head of the Fatherland-All Russian bloc, that the two groups will merge. Political scientist Lilia Shevtsova said during last night’s Itogi program that a “Potemkin village” with “democratic wrapping” was being set up in the country, complete with a parliament, political parties “and even an imitation NTV.” She questioned, however, whether this regime would be effective or stable (NTV.ru, April 15).